A Matter of Perspective , available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

A Matter of Perspective


July 11, 2011

I think the older we get the more we realize that life is not entirely black and white.  In fact we are faced with a whole lot of grey situations.

Case in point: our recent Fourth of July family vacation.  A whole lot went wrong, but there sure were a lot of opportunities to look for what was going right.  Here are two ways of looking at each of our “unique opportunities.”

Perspective one: Smashing two totally different experiences (beach getaway and camping trip) into one outing is not a good idea.  Packing a family of five for BOTH a camping trip AND a beach vacation significantly pushes the limits of what our vehicle can comfortably accommodate.  There was no room to play with.  Also, when we were at the campsite we were annoyed by the beach toys we had packed; and when we were at the timeshare we were frustrated with the tents and sleeping bags that we no longer needed.

Perspective two: A coworker generously offered us two nights for our family at a timeshare on the Washington State coast.  We took the opportunity to tag on an extra night camping in a national forest we had been wanting to see.  We got to enjoy some of the great outdoors and then have two nights of a little luxury.

Perspective one: We went camping, had a microscopic campsite and it rained all night.

Perspective two: Even though we arrived at our campsite later in the evening, there was plenty of light and time to set up camp and take a walk on the nearby beach.  Oscar built one of the best campfires I have ever seen (and it may have been the very first time he has even tried).  I made two of the best s’mores I have ever eaten.  We all got ready for bed, snuggled in and zipped up before the rain started.  We were dry all night in our tents and the rain stopped in time for breakfast in the morning.

Perspective one: A deer tried to take out our car, leaving an enormous dent in the rear passenger door.

Perspective two: As we were entering a sleepy Washington coast town we got to see a little wild life up close and personally.  Unexpectedly, an otherwise docile deer walking along the side of the road, suddenly decided to try to jump through Simon’s door (we think it must have wanted his goldfish crackers).  It was pretty funny until we saw the damage when we got to the grocery store.  Then it was funny again after we took a toilet plunger to the dent and actually pulled almost the whole thing out.  Now THAT is a memory maker!

Perspective one: This is an icky tourist trap of a town with really dirty beaches, really bad traffic control, and far too much wind to be comfortable even when it is clear and sunny.

Perspective two: Our room is full of amazing luxuries, it is sunnier than it has been all summer, and our coworker and her family welcomed us with dinner and passes to the local heated pool.

Perspective one: Some vacation.  We are uncomfortable and fairly far from home.

Perspective two: We have great adventures together as a family even when we are uncomfortable and fairly far from home. Nothing says we have to stay in a less than ideal situation.  Let’s go home.

So that’s what we did.  We left a night early and got to see close to ten different fireworks shows as we drove through towns on the interstate.  It was magical.  At least from my perspective.  And sometimes that is all it takes in family life.  Same objective reality but a little shift in mindset and “profane” turns into “sacred.”

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What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

What is a Parent’s Role in Lent?

On the second Sunday of Lent, as we were driving to Mass, we decided to check in as a family on how each of us was doing with the personal disciplines we had chosen for the season. 14-year-old Oscar was working hard at his and was doing well. 7-year-old Lucy was not working hard at all on hers—because it depended more on our not having sweets in the house than on her own effort—but was doing very well. When it was 9-year-old Simon’s turn, he burst into tears and spoke pretty heatedly about how he did not like what he had chosen and wanted to stop it.

Many parts of this situation were troubling.

First, we were almost to the church and he was a mess. Next, he had chosen a really good discipline: giving up one of his precious weekend days of screen time each week. Our children get 30 minutes individual screen time on each day of the weekend and Simon had voluntarily chosen to fast from one of them for Lent. It was a great idea. It was also—unlike Lucy and the candy that was not even in the house—extremely challenging when his sister and brother still got their 30 minutes on a given day, and he got nothing. Finally, what was most troubling to me was this question: “What is our role as his parents in the face of his wanting to give up his Lenten discipline?”

In the moment, we just tried to settle him down and said we can talk more about it later, hoping that after an hour at Mass he would let go of the whole thing. He calmed down as much as he could. But when I would peek at him during Mass and see his still teary eyes, it was obvious he was still thinking about it.

So at roughly homily time I thought, “Okay, what are the possible ways we could handle this situation?” I came up with three:

First, we could listen to how troubled he was and let him drop his Lenten discipline. This would effectively mean he would fail at following through with it. He might experience some guilt about that. We would not lord it over him, of course, but he is sensitive enough that it might bother him. The possible positive side would be that next Lent he would be more discerning in his choices and spend more time examining options and possible implications of those options.

Second, we could talk with him about how important it is to personally observe Lent and allow him some space to think of and then propose an alternative discipline that he would take up for the remainder of Lent. The downside here would be a certain lack of follow through in the face of challenge. What is a “discipline” after all if we don’t stick with it when it is challenging? The upside would be empowering him to take responsibility and think things through.

Third, we could hold him to the discipline and not allow him to drop it or change it. The primary reason for this approach in my mind would be helping him to understand and experience what it takes to have personal discipline. The negatives would be that his experience of his personal observance would be one of heaviness and weight without any of the freedom and generosity that come from personal choice.

Perhaps for folks reading this there is a pretty clear best approach. In truth, I was really pretty conflicted about what the right approach was in our role as parents in this situation.

In the end, when I talked it over with Joshua, it came down to remembering that we show our children the face of God in the way we parent them. So we asked ourselves, what face of God do we want to convey to Simon?

After Mass I walked into Simon’s room and I sat on his bed and talked with him. I told him I felt a bit stuck because it is hard to know how to help him be the best version of himself in this situation. I told him the three options I had come up with. He said he would like to consider changing his Lenten observance and would like to take the day to think of a substitute. “But,” he said, “I won’t do my screen time today until I think of something else that you say is ok.”

In the end, and through his own initiative, Simon decided he would like to give up complaining for the remainder of Lent, which to me was yet another reminder of our God’s abundant sense of humor.

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